This Alert provides an overview of the general intent of the new legislation and how it will be implemented. Further Alerts will follow on key parts of the legislation.
The Local Government Act 2020 (LGA 2020) began its journey in 2015 with the State Government committing to a generational reform of the Local Government Act 1989 (LGA 1989).
A new Local Government Bill was first presented to State Parliament in 2018 and, while it passed the Legislative Assembly, it did not pass the Legislative Council before the State election and the Bill lapsed. In 2019, the Bill was revived, amended, and a final version received Royal Assent on Monday 24 March 2020.
The LGA 2020 will commence in stages. The first commenced on 6 April 2020 with further provisions to be staggered through to 1 July 2021. It should be noted that not all of the LGA 1989 will be repealed. Further information on this will be provided in a more detailed Alert.
Our Local Government teams at Russell Kennedy have been helping prepare our council clients over the last year or more on the proposed changes through advices, discussions, our “roadshow” presentations, and other communications.
Essentially, the State Government’s agenda focuses on 5 key reforms:
- Improved Service Delivery through deliberate community engagement and identifying key principles to support councils in delivering effective essential services.
- Strong Local Democracy by making councillors directly accountable to the community.
- Improve Conduct with greater emphasis on standards and training for candidates and councillors.
- Community Confidence through electoral reforms and new candidate requirements.
- A New Relationship between State and Local Governments and their communities, giving greater autonomy to councils by removing unnecessary ministerial approvals and arbitrary powers.
The LGA 2020 is very different to the LGA 1989, being broad-brush and “principles-based” legislation designed to achieve:
- a new governance model for councils;
- reform of the integrity of councils (hopefully to avoid a repeat of recent ministerial interventions); and
- greater authority and autonomy for councils.
Implementation of the LGA 2020 will happen in four stages:
STAGE 1: 6 April 2020 – Already implemented
This stage involves:
- Changes to provisions around the establishment of councils, along with their roles and functions;
- the introduction of new electoral provisions;
- the establishment of fundamental principles dealing with public transparency, strategic planning and service performance;
- abolition of the mandatory reporting process for certain complaints against Chief Executive Officers; and
- powers for the Minister for Local Government to issue good practice guidelines, which will clearly be important in initial stages of implementation of the legislation.
STAGE 2: 1 May 2020
This stage will implement provisions regarding:
- the role of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor;
- key planning and financial management provisions governing required documents and processes to be observed, including budget processes and reporting;
- Council integrity and conduct (Part 6); and
- Ministerial oversight (Part 7).
This is likely to involve an intensive participation phase for council officers as key strategic documents are put in place, such as the financial plan, council plan, community vision and annual report – all of which must be adopted by councils by 31 October 2021.
STAGE 3: 24 October 2020
This stage addresses:
- powers of delegation;
- councillor entitlements;
- CEO and council staff provisions, (but not the CEO employment and remuneration package);
- meeting procedures and rules; and
- most of the general provisions in Part 9.
STAGE 4: 1 July 2021
This stage includes:
- local laws;
- financial management policies and powers; and
- council operations including complaints, procurement, beneficial enterprises (formerly the entrepreneurial power), land, works and the like.
Council Implementation Timeline
A council implementation timeline has been released, you can find it here, it includes guidance for councils in terms of which documents need to be in place within which timelines in order to comply with the new legislative requirements.
Fortunately, for councils, a 6 months grace period applies for the finalisation and adoption of these various documents.
Any proposed draft regulations and guidance notes to be issued by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning will obviously be eagerly awaited as much needed assistance for councils in preparing for implementation of each stage of the LGA 2020.
This Alert is going to be followed by further communications regarding specific issues arising out of the LGA 2020.
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